Commercial Sexual Exploitation Ain’t Easy: The Role of Pimps as Sex Traffickers

Article originally posted on May 19, 2011 on MeetJustice.org

Pimps are typically depicted either as living symbols of an empire of power and success built out of poverty, or they’re harmless jesters in comedic film. But the truth is, pimps aren’t harmless. In a televised interview with Tony Perkins, Lisa Thompson, liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking at the Salvation Army, flatly identified another role that they play: “ Pimps are sex traffickers.” But is this view sensationalist? Misguided? According to the United Nations, it’s neither.

Human trafficking is defined by the UN as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation“. Articulating pimps as human traffickers isn’t mere wordsmithing: as a society, we further subject victims of commercial exploitation to degradation when we scoff at their social status and glorify their traffickers’.
The bottom line: other peoples’ pain pays. The typical pimp garners a yearly salary of between $150,000 and $500,000 by exploiting between 2-30 victims at a time. Some pimps are college educated, others are middle school drop-outs. The average age of beginning business is 22 ½, though many pimps- 56% of males and 100% of females- report having sold their own bodies at an earlier age. (About 1/3 of pimps are female “madams”, but the focus here is on male pimps interviewed by researchers and journalists.)
Why do they go into the industry?
One sad reality is that many of them- roughly 76%- faced childhood sexual abuse as young as 9 years old. The DePaul report suggests that pimping is a way for them to “…regain a sense of missing power, but it also help[s] make amends; they [are] now getting paid for something that in the past had been taken from them.” In other cases, it’s all they know: 60% of the pimps interviewed in the DePaul study grew up in homes where the family business was prostitution. However, the infamous Don Juan, who is credited with the origin of the Player’s Ball, gave a somewhat blunter motive to one Salon reporter: “I considered the pimp game a great trade because I didn’t like going to jail. I’d rather send someone else in my place.”
Don Juan has a point: it’s far more often that we hear stories of prostitution stings, where women are arrested and carted off to jail by the dozen, while the pimp remains unnoticed. How do they do it? Pimps often use young girls to lure other young girls and women into prostitution. While their stable of victims is systematically stigmatized, arrested, socially alienated, and put at serious physical risk, pimps enjoy a life of cultural worship.
So why don’t victims talk?
Pimps employ tactics as brutal as the ones you might see in the movies: rapes, beatings, torture, psychological games and abuse. Aside from the hackneyed cliché of a pimp cane, some pimps make use of what’s known as a “pimp stick”: two wire coat hangers wrapped together and stretched out. They’re used to whip victims around their feet and ankles, where markings are painful, but barely visible. Don Juan waxed nostalgic as he described forcing girls to stand in a tub while he rubbed alcohol or salt into their wounds. According to Juan, that sort of torture ensured she wouldn’t talk once she was arrested: “You got to have a woman that no matter what, she want to see you on top, whether she has to spend 150 years in jail.”
However, physical abuse only goes so far to control victims: Prostitutes are also punished by being locked in the trunks of cars as well as emotionally manipulated: overwhelmingly, pimps in the DePaul study reported targeting women and girls who were vulnerable, emotionally unstable, and in need of support. Human traffickers consistently take advantage of financially, socially, and emotionally vulnerable people. According to one pimp from the Depaul study, “You can smell desperation”. And another: “It’s impossible to protect all girls from guys like I was because that’s what we do. We eat, drink and sleep thinking of ways to trick young girls into doing what we want them to do.” Such statements certainly don’t support the claim that prostitution is a victimless crime.
“Ken” explained his theory on psychological manipulation this way: “…you can only beat a person for so long…[you] [have] to control a woman’s mind without physical abuse by selling her a dream. Besides,if you beat a woman and destroy her face, how can she get your money?” As for the mythological role pimps play in managing prostitutes’ business: Hardly. Over half of the Depaul pimps don’t allow their victims to see any money at all from their transactions; instead, they purchase drugs and alchohol in order to further trap victims into the lifestyle of prostitution, or allow women to buy birth control, beauty products, and clothing designed to help them attract dates.
How do they do it?
Pimps traffic their victims by interacting heavily with figures in the community. Profits were shared with people who contribute to the industry in various ways: from hotel clerks to lawyers, cab drivers who transport the prostitutes to bartenders who refer clients. 60% of pimps in the Depaul study paid law enforcement to stay away; others described paying convention information centers for referrals.Thompson solidified her claim that pimps are sex traffickers by pointing out that the definition of a pimp- someone who recruits, harbors, transports, and obtains [someone] through force, fraud, and coercion, for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation” shares an unmistakable parallel with the UN definition of a human trafficker. When we glorify sex traffickers as entrepreneurs and shun their victims as social pariah, what does it say about our attitudes toward justice?

The Depaul College of Law Report, Female Juvenile Prostitution report, Youth Radio, Salon, and other sources produce a profile of the average pimp and how they act as human traffickers, often using first hand accounts of the pimps themselves.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s